Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Annum Recognition: 3

Three years ago this blog was birthed from the boundless life flowing through our streets every day. A year later the famed dragon blood tree on Andrews Avenue downtown still displayed the mature, stately glory it had been for decades. The following year, this venerable rarity showed its age as nearly half the plant broke away. A valiant effort to preserve the remnant ultimately proved to be a losing battle against time and the march of all living things back into the earth. Our community is blessed to have a plentiful share of earth's wonders, and a large number of residents who appreciate them.

Our very presence here, on the end of this distinctive peninsula, is a wonder in itself. With a limestone bedrock laid down by untold trillions of microscopic sea creatures, a sandy topsoil deposited here in the distant past after eroding from Appalachian mountains that were once as tall as the Himalayas, and abundant rainfall that prevents the land from turning into another Sahara Desert (with which it shares the same latitude) - things just grow here.

Broward County's constantly booming population contributes almost 2 million residents to the tri-county total of over 6 million. Those numbers aren't getting smaller, and public transit is a vital service providing crucial support for our quality of life. With more people comes more everyday life, and that's what flows through my bus every day.

---

This morning shift shift on the 10 was only a couple round trips. It was by no means the first bus of the day, starting downtown at the Central Terminal shortly before sunrise. New LED lights in the terminal lit up the rows bright as day until the real thing could take over. The city was waking up with a bubbling frenzy, and now the bus was right in the middle of it. My follower bus pulled in behind me, creating a brief moment of confusion for passengers until I waved them aboard my bus and we pulled out of our cloistered bay and plunged into service among the heaving pulse of the boulevard.

I pulled over to the first stop at Stranahan Park for a man waiting patiently. When he asked for "US 1" I had to make sure which part of US 1 he needed; the 10 services the part north of Broward Boulevard, the #1 services all points south. It was the #1 he needed and which he'd just missed, but I assured him another was on the way and he was at the right stop. From that point we have to get the bus over to the left lane before reaching US 1 a couple blocks away. As I signaled and gradually shifted lanes, a car behind crazily honked its horn far more than necessary. Although I could see him clearly and yielded for him, that motorist couldn't know for certain and was taking every measure to announce his intention. Such an attentive driver is much appreciated when we are routinely interacting with distracted drivers.

We made it through the congestion in time to get in line at the red light for US 1 before turning north. Ahead of us in the inside turn lane was a box truck for a bakery. The rear roll-up door was open, and the driver (a young man in his 30s) was out of the seat and tending to stacks of trays loaded with bread, hastily rearranging and strapping them down. A woman jumped out of the passenger door, hurried to the back to check on him, then jumped back in to her own seat before the light turned green.

Bikes were loaded and unloaded, someone told me "it ain't no good morning" after I'd wished them a good one, another asked me to let them know when we got to Commercial, still another said you couldn't pay him to wear those shorts, and the bus annunciator was announcing coded techno-talk during one of its updates. "Can you repeat that message?" an older man joked.

It was to be expected that we'd pull into our north layover a little late, but we still had a few minutes to stretch out before heading back south. Transit is a game of minutes, and sometimes seconds. A few blocks south of Sample Road, I noted an empty bus stop normally occupied by a young lady heading to work. I slowed and looked down the side street in case she was running late and it was a good thing or I wouldn't have seen her. She was winded as she hopped aboard smiling with gratitude. "Thank you so much! You got my back, man!"

The next trip north didn't have any exhibitionist bread trucks or snarky commentary, but the bus surely runneth over with sunshine. In fact, the lady I call the sunshine of Broward Transit paid a visit. In her cheery manner she shared her delight in the cool weather of the season and brightened the bus with her infectious smile. It was so catchy there was a double case of the smiles when we got up to Pompano where the two older Brazilian ladies awaited at their regular stop on the way to Boca.

All morning there had been a persistent sight at nearly every intersection: flocks of starlings. Immense numbers of them clouding the sky, covering powerlines and mast arms. This was not their daily ritual, but apparently it was the right time according to natural instinct. Starlings often remind me of the pin-feathered chicks I rescued awhile back. That episode impressed upon me how we are all like the little birds at some point, helpless and vulnerable in an overwhelming world.

Our final trip had only begun, we neared the Gateway curve to head up north one last time. An older gentleman boarded, his long white hair conjuring up the classic hippie image. He stood up front and in soft-spoken words shared his sadness.
"I almost committed suicide a month ago. The gun felt heavy, but I couldn't go through with it. If God could sacrifice his own son, who am I?"

I don't recall how I responded, though at the very least I listened with compassion and to make sure he was not a threat to himself or others. He was calm and spoke clearly. His pensive mood indicated someone at peace for the moment. Sometimes that's enough out here.

Light, dark, smiles, cynicism, and nature's timeless cycles. We are in the middle of it and there's no filter on the doors of the bus. This is the stuff of Life. And it's waiting at the next stop.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Keeps me alive

My regular early-morning start on the 2: Report at 5 a.m., inspect the bus, and roll down south to pull out in the dark at West Terminal. We had an old Gillig today, and these babies can move. Not that we'd have much need for speed out here on University Drive, a main trunk line through suburbia. Still, it's reassuring to know you have the option.

The day started like clockwork, on time and without incident. There wasn't going to be any excitement today, not out here. Nope, just the predictable routine of folks heading to work and school and errands. We were all here together to watch the sun rise from way inland. The sun decided to wake up late today, and when it was time to pull out of the north layover in Coral Springs, the sky was still wrapped in a dreary overcast. Large flocks of ibis flew low toward their grazing grounds in the east.

At Sample Road I issued a courtesy pass to a gentleman who paid for one on the 34 he just transferred from but hadn't received it since the farebox wasn't printing passes. We all got a little wake up call by the Plantation Fashion Mall when a woman boarding in sweats sucked the air out of the bus. The telltale scent of stale urine made it difficult to breathe, but she got off a few stops later and a squirt of deodorizer remedied the discomfort.

The day before, my picture had been posted in our garage lobby. It was a poster of my grinning mug, along with my name and Operator of the Month title. There are only twelve operators honored this way each year, so it was a welcome recognition that I was doing something right out here on the streets of Broward County.

The traffic was only creating a minor delay this morning, still leaving me a few minutes at 207th St to stretch out before I flipped it back north. At Pembroke Road a Jamaican man suggested in smooth cadence that a shelter be installed at that stop. It was a good suggestion as that stop gets plenty of play and other stops nearby have cover. I'd forgotten to bring my sunglasses this morning, but the misty dull light made them unnecessary. On the other side of the street, I waved at one of my classmates also driving for Team 2 today.

Our final south trip and we'd only just begun, approaching Sample again there was a flurry of arms waving us down. It was only two arms on one man, but his exuberant use of them is his trademark. I pick him up in various places around town. He's a tall man, and his height is enough to to announce his presence. Sometimes it's only one hesitant arm halfway extended toward the street, his free hand shyly tapping his chin. Another driver told him to do that at night and since then he takes no chances when the bus nears, even in broad daylight. I always laud him for his technique, telling him he sure knows how to stop a bus. He's a sweet soul, always friendly and sociable with me, inviting me to Christmas shows and other church events. He has a solid memory for numbers and dates, remembering the first time he rode Broward Transit back in the 1980s. The driver who advised him about hailing the bus also suggested holding up his cellphone in the dark. "In the 80s we didn't have cell phones," he thought out loud.

An older man who rode on a previous trip reappeared to ride back up; he'd missed his stop. The lunch time traffic was the worst of this ho-hum day, making us late to our south end layover. I took a couple minutes to stretch before the long trip north, knowing I'd get a break in the middle at West Terminal.

We left a minute behind schedule to make sure there were no last minute transfers from Miami buses and booked it west on 207th St, north on Douglas Road, then east on Miramar Parkway back to University. At the last stop on Miramar, a well-used stop by those transferring from the 28, was an older man in a motorized wheelchair. The stop is one of a few that are still at ground level, making for a big step into the bus. I kneeled it as low as it would go and swung out the ramp, which looked steeper than I would prefer. The senior took it in stride as he probably did often, and zipped up safely. His service dog came on with him, at home on the man's lap.
"He keeps me alive!" he praised his furry companion. "He knows when I'm hypoglycemic. I tell my daughters he's their brother. He's also the biggest chick magnet I've ever known."

It was well into the afternoon on this final trip, wrapping up a shift that had begun so many hours ago. In Davie, a lanky man boarded with clothing stained and soiled from the work of the day. He told us about the 150 foot tree he'd felled earlier, defying gravity in the rain-weighted limbs filling a space that was now empty. And confirming what I'd thought all those hours earlier, there wasn't any excitement today, not out here. Nope, just the predictable routine of folks heading to work and school and errands.